UNESCO Recognizes Neapolitan Pizza as Intangible Cultural Heritage

It earns protected status, joining the ranks of Spanish human towers and Estonian smoke saunas, among others.

By Ethan L. Johns
December 07, 2017

Image: Salvatore Laporta/KONTROLAB/LightRocket via Getty Images

Watch your back, fast food pizza, because the authentic Neapolitan stuff now has the full economic might of the UN’s cultural organization behind it.

OK, so that’s a bit dramatic. But it is true that on Thursday morning, UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) accepted Italy’s bid to have the “Art of Neapolitan ‘Pizzaiuolo’” added to its Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage. It was inscribed on the list along with Nsima, a culinary tradition of Malawi, and German organ craftsmanship and music, among others.

The list of intangible heritage highlights cultural practices which, unlike sculpture or art, are impossible to put in a museum. In addition to food, the list acknowledges and protects forms of song, dance and games. The protected status of Neapolitan pizza involves more than just the food itself, but the role it plays in the community of Naples.

“The art of the Neapolitan ‘Pizzaiuolo’ is a culinary practice comprising four different phases relating to the preparation of the dough and its baking in a wood-fired oven, involving a rotatory movement by the baker,” the official description reads. “[It] fosters social gatherings and intergenerational exchange, and assumes a character of the spectacular, with the Pizzaiuolo at the centre of their ‘bottega’ sharing their art.”

There are two main types of Neapolitan pizza: marinara and Margherita. Marinara pizza is made with tomatoes, garlic, oregano, while Margherita pizza is made with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil. Both have thin crusts and are finished with a drizzle of olive oil before being cooked in a wood-fired oven, which results in light charring of the thicker outside crust.

The “Art of the Neapolitan ‘Pizzaiuolo’” is the eighth “element” from Italy (others are the “Mediterranean diet” and “Traditional violin craftsmanship in Cremona”) to be added to the list.

The United States currently has has no sites on the list of Intangible Heritage, and never ratified the convention that created it due to concerns over intellectual property rights. It has not paid dues to UNESCO since 2011, and currently owes the organization $500 million dollars. In October, the State Department announced that it would be withdrawing its membership at the end of 2018.

Member or not, the world will be able to enjoy Neapolitan pizza for years to come. And fortunately, you don’t need to travel very far to do so.

“Even if the Pizzaiuoli created [the Neapolitan pizza], they have never claimed its intellectual property but they make it available to others’ cultures,” says Marino Niola, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Naples, who participated in the nomination process. “We can find Pizzaiuoli and pizza all over the world.”

Hold on while we go find the nearest slice.

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About Ethan L. Johns

Ethan is the Food News Writer at Genius Kitchen. An expert on the Parisian bistrot, he likes bitters and salted butters, and is no fan of dessert unless it's made with fruit. His hobbies include reading up on the history of borscht and attempting to roll perfect couscous by hand. Twits & Instagram @EthanLJohns